The heart has been described as the ‘engine of life’ beating more than 115,000 times a day to pump blood around the body. However 1-2% of all people have a heart condition known as atrial fibrillation that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate. Many people don’t even know they have the condition, which is the most common heart rhythm disturbance, affecting around one million people in the UK alone.

“Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most commonly occurring cardiac arrhythmia. More than 33.5 million people worldwide suffer from AF with five million new cases appearing each year,” says Professor Hugh Montgomery, Director of the UCL Institute for Human Health and Performance. “Undetected and untreated, AF is a major cause of stroke, cardiovascular morbidity and mortality, leading The European Society of Cardiologists to call it a ‘major cardiovascular challenge in modern society’”.

With the right medication, atrial fibrillation can be controlled easily; the challenge is diagnosing it. “Early detection of AF, followed by intervention to control or cure it, or to prevent its complications, is emerging as a priority issue in medicine," confirms Prof Montgomery.

 

Diagnosis Made Easy

To help make diagnosis that much easier, a new device makes screening for cardiac arrhythmias as simple as touching a mouse mat. Using technology adapted from Formula 1, the device monitors the performance of the heart when a patient places their hands on a pad. Within 30 seconds their cardiac performance is assessed.

 “The system has been developed to be as user-friendly as possible, with a unique combination of sensor technology and patient experience,” explains Chris Crockford, CEO of medical technology company Cardiocity and former Business Development Director Formula 1 team McLaren. “We want to see the heart valves open and close to ensure that nothing irregular is occurring and we can now do this using our patented sensor technology and our experience from F1 telemetry systems.”

 

Full Integration

What’s more, that data can be streamed to any PC where the cardiac rhythm and any abnormalities can be recorded. Doctors will be alerted if there is something wrong, so further investigations can be carried out immediately. The technology is also being integrated into the UK’s Electronic Patient Record systems, which means results can be recorded directly into the patient’s record.

Previously, the whole process for conducting a full ECG was time consuming and extremely intrusive. With the latest technology, patients can make use of waiting time in a GP surgery or pharmacy to get a vital check-up that could save their life.

The device, which has been fully approved by the European Medical Devices Directive, is now being trialled in 28 GP surgeries in Jersey and a further 30 in the UK. “There is always an excuse not to get a check-up,” says Crockford. “With this device it’s as easy as touching a mouse mat, so we’re looking to integrate blood pressure monitoring into the system as well testing blood glucose levels; all in 30 seconds, and all with your clothes on!”